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Humber Bridge

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 23 June 2011

The second phase of the Humber bridge review was launched on 14 June, and we are now in the process of meeting stakeholders to gather views and ideas. As part of that process, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and I intend to meet interested Members, including the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Humber bridge tolls are essentially a tax on local people and local businesses. Is it right that at this time, with this review still going on, there should be an 11% hike in those taxes?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern, of course, but the fact of the matter is that the Humber Bridge Board applied for an increase. I decided unilaterally to have a public inquiry, where people’s representations could be heard. The inspector came back with a clear recommendation in support of the board’s application for an increase, and there is no reason for Ministers to take a contrary view. What I would say, however, is that there has been no increase in the toll since 2006.

Notwithstanding the decision of the Humber Bridge Board this week to implement the recommended increase from 1 October—just six or seven weeks before we anticipate the review being completed—does the Minister agree that, irrespective of the outcome regarding the tolls, the governance of the bridge clearly needs revising so that residents and the local community have a clear spokesman? At the moment, councillors are almost forbidden from taking part.

I sympathise with the point that my hon. Friend is making. The governors’ arrangements for the bridge are part of the review that we are undertaking. We inherited an unsustainable position from the previous Government in relation to the bridge. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury and I are very concerned about this and we are determined to make progress if we can on this matter and others.

In the general election, the Liberal Democrats ran a “Ditch the Humber Bridge Debt” campaign. In the light of the Minister’s decision to endorse the 11% increase, should he not think again? Is this not another example of the Lib Dems’ promises in the manifesto being broken now they are in government?

I think that what the hon. Lady wanted to say was that we have decided, since the election, to offer a reduced interest rate on the Humber Bridge Board’s debt, which will save the board £48 million in interest payments over the next five years.